Culprit - Totem
Release Date: August 20, 2013
Record Label: Easy Killer Records
If music was the only thing you knew about a band, you would never know how young Culprit is. Experts in the songwriting craft, the Los Angeles quartet have returned with a follow up to the beloved Analogue EP released in 2011. Now with fairly extensive touring and other experiences under their belt, they're gearing to release Totem, a collection of work that embodies their grounded passion for making music - music that veterans would be pleased to amalgamate late in their careers, not as their second official release.
"Totem" swings in with glossy chords played against slow burning guitar licks that swell with Travis Powell's vocals in the chorus or take flight with Jason Michalski's rambunctious drums and Zach Blumenfeld's thick bass tones in the verses. It evolves from a summery introduction to a dark and ambient conclusion that is a fairly accurate representation of Totem in its tonal aspects. The song ends with a particularly striking mood that plays out in a way that is much heavier than the typical Culprit track. Not to worry, as tasteless breakdown cliches are avoided and Culprits's own fresh twist is spun and the final product is both unique and vibrant, like the instrumental love child of Armor For Sleep and As Tall As Lions. This buoyant take on melody is extremely prevalent, especially in Supply and Command, a particular highlight of the album. Sporadic rhythms that nod to Circa Survive (see "The Difference Between Medicine and Poison Is In the Doses" and compare that sweet, sweet groove) become the foundation to varied guitar presentations, be they atmospheric leads, gritty strumming, tremolo picking or the like.
The centerpieces of Totem are where casual listeners may be lost, if only for a moment. Bear with me here: "Knock On The Sky" showcases falsetto vocals particularly, with instrumentally bare verses that places more emphasis on the vocals before switching to a hook -laced chorus that resonates with a tinge of desperation. "No More" moves at the same pace with segments of flowing ambiance and the warmth of sounds fading in and out, but doesn't do much to differentiate itself from other tracks. "Bodies Divided" sees a much softer vocal delivery that borders falsetto but pleasantly streams along in mid tempo instrumentals that sound as if they could have been featured on Able Bodies (compliments of Dryw Owens behind the board?) and slowly comes to its end. So what seems to be the problem with these tracks? On an individual basis, nothing. Collectively, though, they're tightly grouped together to their detriment as they share overlapping features that don't seem to promote variety as whole, which could potentially lose listeners.
"We're To Blame" saves the day though, with its vibrant introduction bringing some step in the pace and breaking up some monotony. This melodic aggression resurfaces in spirit as Powell cries out the songs title for one of the EP's biggest display of emotion, particularly those of passion and remorse even, and this display carries on into one last treat. "Piece of Eden" brings Totem to a close with another one of its best songs. An audible salute to "Strangers," from the Analogue EP, it's sure to captivate both long time and new fans. Brian Fulda again flaunts his impeccable ear for compelling melodies as delayed guitar lines flicker through and through, something we loved to hear from The Graduate mixed with splashes of I, The Mighty. Every performance is cohesive, perfectly dynamic in their individual spaces and in tune with each other. It serves as Totem's final impression and it certainly is a lasting one that will guarantee repeated listens.
Yes, Totem has its share of weaknesses, namely that a few songs blend together. But it avoids many of the problems up and coming bands succumb to, while excelling at prolific songwriting that few can achieve, especially this early in their career. With the recent backing of a promising label, the pairing of two quality producers, and now two albums that lay the groundwork for something truly spectacular, now is certainly the time to watch Culprit closely.